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Organized in 1880, the object of the Firemen's Association of the State of Pennsylvania shall be for the general improvement of the fire service throughout the state; to provide protection to disabled fire fighters and to those dependent upon them, through legislation enactment; to open upon the best manner and means for the fighting of fires and public fire safety education; to promote the organization of fire companies and fire departments in communities in need of such protection, and encourage a fraternal friendship among firefighters.

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Controversy comes with firefighter tax credit bill

Posted: Monday, April 25, 2016 2:15 am | Updated: 7:48 am, Mon Apr 25, 2016.

Mark Hofmann mhofmann@heraldstandard.com| 0 comments
Some local fire officials and municipal leaders say a proposed bill to give firefighters a tax credit will leave small municipalities stuck with funding the tax break if they opt into it.

State House Bill 1683 would allow municipalities, counties and school districts to give earned income and property tax credits of up to 20 percent of tax liability to volunteer firefighters.

"We cant take a hit like that in this community," said Jim Eley, chief of the Fayette City Volunteer Fire Department. Eley is also president of the Fayette City Borough Council.

Eley and some others are calling the bill an unfunded mandate from Harrisburg as a municipality would have to make up the difference from the tax money not coming in.

"They (the state House) offered a tax break at the township's expense," said George Matis, the financial treasurer with the Republic Volunteer Fire Department and a Redstone Township supervisor. Matis said volunteer firefighters need all the help and tax breaks they can get, but not in the way the bill is structured. "If we (the township) give the tax break, we have to come up with money somewhere else."

L.C. Otto, Adah's volunteer fire chief and a German Township supervisor, said the bill is good in theory, but has a lot of moving parts that need to be addressed, especially because it's funded at the local level.

"When you get down to the nitty gritty, it's just another unfunded mandate from the state being trickled down to the local government," Otto said.

Local municipalities are cashed-strapped as it is and when there's no money in the budget, raising taxes would have to be an option to fund the tax breaks, he said.

"And that would basically make the tax credit non-existent."
Those opposing the bill would rather have the mandate go statewide and have the commonwealth stuck with the bill.
State Rep. Ryan Warner, R-Perryopolis, who introduced the bill, said the key word for the bill is "optional" as it's optional for local municipalities, school districts or counties to give a tax break to firefighters with either property tax or earned income tax.
"It's purposely spread out through different government entities," Warner said. "They (government entities) can give what they can, and they can all give just a little, and that would make a big difference to these guys (firefighters and EMS personnel)"
Warner said those options for funding were the reason the bill unanimously passed through both a House committee and the House itself.

Warner said the bill is supported by the Pennsylvania Association of State Bureaus, the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, and the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Service Institute.
Warner said the bill was a result of recommendations from the Pennsylvania State Resolution 60 Commission, which is comprised of legislators and members of EMS and fire personnel, that submitted a report to the General Assembly in 2004.

"My response from firefighters and the EMS community has been overwhelmingly positive throughout the state," Warner said.
Donald Konkle, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Service Institute and the law and legislative chair with the Fireman's Association of the State of Pennsylvania, also said the bill has received statewide support.

Konkle said fire protection is ultimately a local responsibility and if a local government believes they don't need to act to attract or retain volunteers, they they do not need to opt in for the tax credit.
"But everyone should at least welcome the option," Konkle said.
Not only do those opposing the bill say they aren't happy where the financial responsibility falls, but they say it could possibly affect morale among firefighters.

Like most fire departments, the volunteer base resides in the coverage area of the department, which normally consists of two or more municipalities.

If one governing entity opts into the credit and another doesn't in the same coverage area, then some members in the same firehouse will have the tax break and others won't.

"You'll have friction inside the fire department," Matis said.
Warner said the state fire commissioner will set the annual requirements to qualify, which could be from the annual number of calls to training they received.

Warner said another reason for the bill was an attempt to retain volunteers, as they have been on a decline for various reasons including out-of-pocket expenses they have to handle.
"If we don't have the volunteers in our communities, then it would cost more money to hire full-time professional firefighters," Warner said.

Konkle said local volunteer firefighters annually save local municipalities a total of $9 billion statewide.

While Konkle said he doesn't believe the legislation will entirely solve the problem of volunteer troubles with attracting and retaining volunteers, he said it's an important step.
Konkle said he hopes during the next legislative session consideration can be made for similar incentives that would include repaying college loans for active firefighters and EMS personnel, and providing seasoned firefighters a couple hundred dollars a month as a reward for their years of service.
The bill will go on to the state Senate for a vote.

Don Konkle
PFESI Executive Director
223 State Street, Harrisburg, PA 17101
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Applications available for PA DCNR fire assistance grants

Applications are now available for Volunteer Fire Assistance Grants through the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR),

The application period is open through May 19.

The grants, made available in coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are designed to facilitate a partnership with state officials to organize, train and equip local forces in preventing, controlling and suppressing fires that have the potential to threaten human life, livestock, crops, pastures, woodlands, orchards and farmsteads. The grants are available to rural areas or communities with fewer than 10,000 residents.

Grants can be used for the purchase of wildfire suppression equipment, wildfire protective gear, wildfire prevention and mitigation, wildfire training, mobile or portable radios and installation of dry hydrants.

Financial assistance on any project during any fiscal year cannot exceed 50 percent of the actual expenditures, including those of local, public, and private nonprofit organizations participating in the agreement.

The maximum grant that will be considered is $7,500 ($15,000 total project) per fire company. Because of high demand and limited funding, fire companies must wait five years after receiving a DCNR grant through the program to be eligible to receive another grant. However, if a fire company received a $4,000 grant or less in the last five years, it is eligible for assistance one additional time as long as the two-year total does not exceed the maximum grant established for the program each year.

Sincerely,
Don Konkle
PFESI, 223 State Street, Harrisburg, PA 17101
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